On advice

When I’m overwhelmed, these pieces of advice – all three of them – make me feel better. Or, calmer, at the very least. You need them, too:

– One, from Kurt Vonnegut, in a letter to his daughter:

You’re learning now that you do not inhabit a solid, reliable, social structure – that the older you get people around you are worried, moody, goofy human beings who themselves were little kids only a few days ago. So home can fall apart and schools can fall apart, usually for childish reasons, and what have you got? A space wanderer named Nan.

And that’s okay. I’m a space wanderer named Kurt, and Jane’s a space wanderer named Jane, and so on. When things go well for days on end, it is an hilarious accident.

You’re dismayed at having lost a year, maybe, because the school fell apart. Well – I feel as though I’ve lost the years since Slaughterhouse-Five was published, but that’s malarky. Those years weren’t lost. They simply weren’t the way I’d planned them.

One, from Dave Eggers, on the important things in life:

What matters is that you do good work. What matters is that you produce things that are true and will stand. What matters is not the perception, nor the fashion, not who’s up and who’s down, but what someone has done and if they meant it. What matters is that you want to see and make and do, on as grand a scale as you want, regardless of what the tiny voices of tiny people say. It is a fuckload of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but Christ, that is what matters. What matters is saying yes.

And one, from an old professor. (Hi, Cutter. I do still have this.)

Don’t be afraid to fall in love with a person, a time period, a place. It’s a long world. Study the people as much as the books. I think it’s as helpful to know that Dickens had a wall-length mirror and he impersonated his characters in front of it, or that Hrabal’s entire writing career was inspired by a laundry tag that read: to remove some stains it may be necessary to destroy the material. In particular, once you’ve struck your genius, read their failures; then you’ll know where there’s work left to do. And find or make yourself a history, that’s what a lot of projects are. Start drawing lines between people, and start figuring out how those lines lead to you, and where they lead after you.

[Remember], reading is just a guided seeing. The most important thing, as you’ve heard me say a million times now, is that you never stop looking around and wondering what the hell is going on. If things don’t quite make sense, you’re headed in the right direction.

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